(Sensi Magazine 1/17) In the past year I have eaten more than 1,000 meals, maybe 1,500 depending on how you define a meal. How many of those meals do I remember in detail? Not that many, and I blame neither the sativa nor the indica. It just takes great food, ambiance and hospitality to make it into my long-term memory. After visiting many dozens of restaurants over the years in Colorado’s ski towns there are some meals I can still picture clearly.
I remember sitting at the Alpenrose in Vail one morning last spring. The air was so chill my breath froze into a cloud of powder as I walked to the 40-year-old patisserie and Central European eatery. Even now the aroma of the pastries, the warmth of the coffee and the taste of that pear almond torte are front of mind.
Nearly 15 years ago I were having a having a good dinner at Keystone Ranch with my then young son. The repast became legendary when the staff guided us to cushy seats before a huge, crackling fireplace. We talked, nibbled elaborate desserts and sipped coffee for what seemed like an hour. .
It would be hard to forget absorbing a soulful bowl of pozole in my car in Eagle and standing in line in the snow for a crepe in Breckenridge and nibbling pork belly and smoked pineapple outside at 9,540 feet above Telluride.
I can’t guarantee a memorable meal but here is a roadmap to a few of my favorite independent mountain eateries. Travelling west through Summit County and the Vail valley with a side trip to Telluride I included special occasion destinations, down-to-earth cafes and bakeries.
Keystone Ranch, 1239 Keystone Ranch Road, 970-496-4161, keystoneresort.com
Dinner here is an evening-long experience in the Colorado woods with an earthy menu including starters like bison tartare and roasted bone marrow with onion jam. Main dishes range from duck breast with sweet potato cakes to pappardelle pasta with wild mushrooms and shaved fennel. Leave room for a Grand Marnier souffle with pistachio crème anglaise.
Sauce on the Blue, 358 Blue River Parkway, Silverthorne, 970-468-7488, sauceontheblue.com
Yes, Virginia, there really is a good Italian restaurant with a fine wine list in Silverthorne, the highway home of discount outlet stores. The recently opened eatery has an open contemporary feel that works for pizza and a beer with friends as well as wine and pasta platters with the family. Don’t miss the arancini, the eggplant and the meatballs!.
Log Cabin Café, 121 E. Main St., Frisco, 970-668-3947, logcabincafe.com
They had me at homemade jam. From blueberry to strawberry rhubarb it’s on the table all day at this quintessential Colorado mountain diner. I also go back for the bacon Bloody Marys, green chile cheeseburgers and giant, heavily glazed cinnamon rolls.
Crepes a la Cart, 307 S. Main St., Breckenridge, 970-453-0622, crepesalacarts.com
You will always stand in line outdoors whenever the cart is open but it gives you time to decide. My savory choice is usually the Breck Ribeye crepe with Swiss, sauteed onions and mushrooms and horseradish. The Lemon Souffle is a stunner middled with butter, sugar, fresh lemon juice and Chantilly cream (plus a little Nutella).
Alpenrose Restaurant and Patisserie, 100 E. Meadow Drive, Vail, 970-476-8899, alpenrosevail.com
By day the sweets from eclairs to sachertorte and linzer cookies rule the 40-year-old eatery. Old World classics prepared traditionally fill the comfort food dinner roster. They make Colorado’s best Wienerschnitzel – a thin cutlet with a lemon juice squeeze, spaetzle dumplings and red cabbage made for a pilsener
Nudoru Ramen Bar, 2161 N. Frontage Road, Vail, 970-476-7570, nudoruvail.com
If typical ski town fare means these ginger-chile hot wings and pan-sizzle potstickers then count me in. Chef Chris Mackenzie’s also dishes exceptional ramen with chewy noodles and slurp-worthy broth with crisp pork belly and poached egg. The hip modern bar pours a wide selection of sake and high-end Japanese whiskeys.
Minturn Country Club, 131 Main St., Minturn, 970-827-4114, minturncountryclub.com
This is not your grandfather’s country club. The only sport at this ultra-casual steakhouse is indoor shuffleboard. The bartender doubles as the in-house magician and you get to sizzle your own New York strip or salmon filet on the open grill in the middle of the dining room. The twice-baked spuds are the must-have side dish.
Barra Pintxo, 137 Benchmark Road, Avon; 970-688-5037, barrapintxo.com
Somehow you don’t expect to find first class tapas in a tiny eatery off the beaten track in Avon, but big flavor comes on small plates here from the patatas bravas to the fritto misto. Make a reservation for paella night and settle in with a bottle of Spanish or South American wine, house-baked flatbreads and a bowl of aromatic rice tumbled with chorizo, shrimp, mussels and calamari.
Boxcar, 182 Avon Road, Avon, 970-470-4121, boxcarrestaurant.com
If you’re in the mountains with people you actually want to talk to, eat here. The space is warm and comfy and so are the well-crafted fare and cocktails. I am always willing to go back for their roasted cauliflower with black garlic, brick chicken with fingerlings and banana cinnamon roll bread pudding with bacon maple ice cream.
Mirabelle, 55 Village Road, Beaver Creek, 970-949-7728, mirabelle1.com
Take a left before you head up the hill to Beaver Creek Resort and sneak into a fine dining oasis tucked inside a historic farmhouse. The feeling is charming and romantic with a focus on French classics such as Dover Sole Meunière served with a crispy potato tuile, baby spinach and lemon beurre noisette. The multi-course Le Menu Gourmand is matched with sips from a stellar wine list.
Revolution Rotisserie, 26 Avondale Lane, Beaver Creek, 970-845-1730, revolutiondining.com
I left Revolution smiling. What’s not to like when you get to choose from a cool array of juicy meats and vegetables roasted on a Brazilian rotisserie and dished with shareable flatbreads, sides, sauces and craft cocktails?
Bookworm Café, 295 Main St., Edwards, 970-926-7323, bookwormofedwards.com
Can I confess? Sometimes I need to take a break from my beloved family and friends. Among the cookbooks, novels, juvenile fiction and quiet one can read and revive with a crepe, a big chocolate chip cookie and tea or an Eat, Pray, Love salad with prosciutto and pear and a glass of red wine. Say “Ahhhh.”
The Gashouse, 34185 U.S. Highway 6, Edwards, 970-926-3613, gashouse-restaurant.com
This not a good place to dine with your vegan ski and board buddies, but if you appreciate meat it’s a must. There are Rocky Mountain “oysters” and bison, venison and elk steaks on the sampler plates and stuffed animal heads on all the walls at this Western roadhouse and restaurant.
Loncheria Primabere, 332 Grand Ave., Eagle, 970-328-0454
If you find yourself on a weekend morning in the Vail valley with a head full of pea-soup fog then you know it is time for a menudo moment. The penance for your excesses is to stand in the cold and snow at this authentic, family-run take-out taqueria and wait. You can eat outside or drag your goat stew, tortas, empanadas and posole to a tasting room in town.
Black Iron Kitchen & Bar, La Madeline Hotel, 568 Mountain Village Boulevard, Telluride, 855-923-7640, madelinetelluride.com
After you ascend from Telluride in the free gondola it’s a gas to take in the winter scene at a heated, flame-centered table on the patio at Black Iron. Maybe it was the altitude but I loved the combination of a hot cocktail, falling snow and Serrano ham with pickled serrano chilies and smoked pineapple. If you stay at La Madeline you will love the appropriately named Sky Terrace deck which delivers mind-blowing views, steaming Jacuzzis and a menu of sandwiches and small plates.
John Lehndorff is a professional apres skier. He is the Contributing Food Editor for Vail Beaver Creek Magazine and Colorado Summit Magazine. He hosts Radio Nibbles Thursdays on KGNU-FM: news.kgnu.org/category/radio-nibbles.